What’s hiding behind your anger.

ANGER, who has not experienced it?

I see anger as a secondary emotion, meaning that anger is a type of emotion which derives from other emotions. Anger is  easily accessible to us and we use it to conceal other, more complicated, primary emotions.  Anger can be seen as a strong emotion which we use to cover up weak, primary emotions, such as hurt, humiliation, or shame, which make us feel weak and vulnerable. We generally do not like feeling vulnerable, especially in a situation of conflict or whenever we do not feel emotionally safe. Therefore, we find different ways to avoid that vulnerability.

The expression of anger serves the immediate need to communicate a two-prong message, to ourselves and others. First we communicate, “I am not weak, I am strong.” That is why we often raise our voice or adopt an aggressive attitude to express anger.

Secondly, we communicate to ourselves and others that something is not well. However, this is an incomplete and passive message, because we are avoiding verbalizing the actual emotions that make us feel vulnerable.

People who are emotionally healthy, or emotionally strong, are able to access primary emotions and express them, even though these emotions may make them feel vulnerable.  Instead, people who struggle with anger may only feel comfortable expressing the strong emotion. In fact, anger may be the only emotion they are able to access.

The illustration often used to visualize this concept is that of an iceberg. Anger is like the tip of the iceberg, which we can see in all the forms and behaviors we use to express anger, but a lot of ice is hidden below the surface.

anger -- tip of iceberg

Concealing  primary emotions and mostly revealing anger, often becomes problematic, especially in relating to others, because all others see is the aggressive behavior which comes from anger, such as shouting, storming out, or other threatening acts. This behavior comes without effectively communicating that we are hurt, disappointed, humiliated, worried, ashamed, or rejected.  Healthy relationships can only develop when we are able to explore what is beneath the surface.

My intent is not to vilify and dismiss anger. Anger is a normal human process. In fact, it can be helpful and I believe there is a positive role for anger. We could look at anger as the emotional equivalent of having a fever. When the body temperature rises we can assume that there is a physical problem. We may do something to lower that temperature, but we may need to address whatever inflammation is causing temperature to rise.

Similarly, when we experience anger, we should address the boiling behavior that may derive from it. However, it is essential to identify and address the primary cause of that anger. Be curious about what weak emotion your anger is hiding. Without casting self-judgement, ask, “What about this situation is making me feel vulnerable and weak?”

I’d love to help you explore what’s hiding behind your anger. Call and set up an appointment today!

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